Prime Memories

Oct. 12, 2012

The Georgia Tech Hall of Fame Induction Dinner is Friday, Oct. 19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. Tickets are $50 and available by calling 404-894-6124.
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By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– As he plows through work toward his Master’s degree, a task that has nearly consumed Jon Carman, the big guy looks back with appreciation at Georgia Tech and not just for the good times he had playing football.

When he’s recognized in Bobby Dodd Stadium next Saturday at halftime of the Boston College game, it will be for his induction into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. He was a heck of an offensive tackle from 1997-’99 on some of Tech’s best O-lines.

Turns out he feels honored to have been a Tech student, too.

The juvenile social worker is months away for a Master’s in human services, and he may pursue a doctoral degree after that. The post-graduate work has been brutal, yet Carman loves the work he does for the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and credits Tech in part for the work ethic that he’s riding toward greater career goals.

The man took a blue collar approach to the game – Who can forget him rushing in when Joe Hamilton was on the ground to play body guard, and push opponents off? – yet he’s thankful that he didn’t do it at, ahem, a factory.

“Prime memories,” Carman said when asked about his first return to Tech since he left in the spring of 2000 for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. “I had a good time. When people ask me about Georgia Tech, I say a few things … including Georgia Tech is a very hard school with a great curriculum.

“I appreciate that now. At certain schools you might be able to major in trampoline. Not there, and that has really helped me.”

Carman majored in management at Tech before dipping his toes into professional football with the Bills and Vikings. Back, foot and shoulder injuries and surgeries shortened his career to parts of four years, and now he’s in a quite different place.

Living with wife and former Tech women’s basketball player Candace McCallum and their three daughters in Barnegat, N.J., he’s not even an hour north of Atlantic City. More importantly, Carman is near Barnegat Bay. “I’m a fisherman,” he said, “and I love the Jersey Shore.”

Back in his day, Carman was a plow.

At 6-feet-8 and about 335 pounds (and heavier than that upon arrival), he was one of the biggest linemen in school history, and part of a couple highly acclaimed blocking units.

He started the final four games in ’97, and was a full-time starter at right tackle in ’98-’99. The Jackets shared the ACC title and were ranked No. 9 in ’98, and Carman will be the third offensive lineman from that team in the Tech Hall. Center Craig Page was inducted in ’09, left tackle Chris Brown in ’10.

Who’s to say the ’99 line wasn’t better still?

Four of five starters were back. Page graduated but Noah King moved from guard to center and the guards were Jason Burks and returnee Brent Key as the Jackets led the nation in total offense.

First- and second-team running backs Joe Burns and Philip Rogers were lost to injury that fall, but Sean Gregory stepped in and with the big boys blocking ’em up so that Hamilton had time to wing it to Dez White and Kelly Campbell, the Jackets averaged a whopping 509 yards and 40.7 points (No. 2 in the nation) per game.

Carman was first-team All-ACC in ’99 with some second- and third-team All-America honors attached.

One of his Tech roommates, George Godsey, also will be inducted into the Tech Hall of Fame next weekend. He took over at quarterback in 2000. Because of his duties as tight ends coach of the New England Patriots, Godsey will not be present at the induction dinner, but will speak via videotape.

“I’ve meant to get down there so many times. I couldn’t get off work for a reunion a few years ago,” said Carman, who works in a prison. “Football was terrific. Coaches [George] O’Leary, [Ralph] Friedgen, Doug Marrone . . . so many teammates and good friends.

“The first place I met my wife was by the elevator near the locker room. Is that still there?”

Why, yes it is, although the surroundings will look quite a bit different.

Carman’s work environment is in ways familiar.

He first came to Tech after a roundabout journey. There was no football for two years after Herndon (Va.) High because a young man became a roustabout: “In high school, I started hanging out with a bad crowd, my parents got divorced and my grades went bad.”

For the first year post-prep, there was no school of any kind. Carman idled in the margins.

Two years out, while at Charles County (Md.) Community College — which did not have a football program – several sets of eyes were watching. Maryland coaches were monitoring him, and suggested that he play ball at Nassau Community College (N.Y.).

He was good. Nassau went undefeated in ’96 and earned a No. 2 national ranking among junior colleges, and he was going to be a Terrapin.

But the Maryland coaches were fired. So Nassau coach George Powers let one of his connections – then-Tech defensive back coach John Anselmo – know that he had a pretty good, really big prospect.

In ’97, at 21 years of age, Carman was brought to Tech from junior college by O’Leary.

Now, Big Jon tries to keep troubled kids from following at least one of his paths.

“I remember my story. I’ve been there,” he said. “It’s fun trying to help people out, and trying to turn lives around. It’s challenging. You think at first that you can save the world. If you’re lucky, you help save a few. You need a thick skin because a lot of them come back [to prison].”

You might say Carman was saved from himself. Football had something to do with that. So did Georgia Tech.

“I’m very excited for my girls to see it,” he said. “It’s going to be nice to see Goose, and I want to see how this offense is run. It’s going to be a great honor to have my girls walk in the locker room.”

Carman is a great joy to speak with, so un-encumbered and natural. Tickets to the Hall of Fame Induction Dinner, next Friday evening at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, are available by calling Barb Dockweiler in the Alexander-Tharpe Fund Office. Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com. Twitter @mwinkeljohn

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